Essay: Grace Before Rant (and why I care)

So many things about other people are none of my business. It is not the same with everyone because my relationship with each person is different. It begins with me, then my immediate family (in my case), then my friends, professional relationships, then people who want something from me like money or my vote. It may include strangers with whom I share driving on roads, rooms (the sign said ‘employees must wash hands’), grocery stores, air, or transportation systems.

Ambivalence, freedom, and self-preservation

If the man sitting across from me on the bus wants to pray, I don’t care. If he puts down a prayer rug that blocks my exit, I do care. If he jumps up and yells something that sounds like god is great in Arabic, I care a lot about his intention. As the behavior of others moves closer to interfering in my life, the more what is not my business is made to be. Not by me. I begin to care.

Pray, pay, and obey

When I lived at home with my parents, I was the youngest child in an Irish Catholic family. For nine years (1950s), I attended a Catholic elementary school (K-8), as did my older siblings. I was taught all traditional things catholic kids were supposed to learn. I memorized the Catechism. I learned about the religion as it was taught to us, about the saints, and some bible history for eight of those nine years. We had to pray. We had to go to confession and to Mass. We had no choice, but I also recall none of us resisting. We saw it as normal.

Millions of children around the world grew up in similar circumstances (and some have spent a lifetime recovering). It was brain washing, of sorts. We prefer to call it religious education and indoctrination, to be more politically correct.

We prayed to start each school day. We memorized new prayers as part of the curriculum, some in Latin if you were gunna be an altar boy. There were no altar girls then (now both sexes are altar servers), but the Latin has been scrapped in most cases. Before and after recess, we prayed. Before lunch, we prayed Grace Before Meals. When we returned after lunch, we stood next to our desks and prayed the Grace After Meals. Before we left for the day, we prayed. We were expected to pray at home.

When old enough, every Friday, or the day before a Holy Day of Obligation, we went to confession as part of the school day. More prayers; and the assigned penance was to say more prayers (five Hail Mary’s, five Our Father’s, and an Act Of Contrition). Think about that for a minute: prayer as punishment? We did that in anticipation of receiving Holy Communion (the body and blood of Christ) at Mass. You’d have thought we were Trappist monks in training (they pray seven times a day).

Reciprocal respect (do your thing)

I am not going to repeat what I’ve said about prayer (mine or other’s) in past posts. But I want to express a concern (PC for pointed rant). I only know what a few other non-believers do in these circumstances, but I want to briefly whine over how I feel about it.

Maybe I’m being picky or over-simplistic about this, but I strongly believe that no gods exist or ever have. Consequently, communication with something non-existent is pointless, if not weird. I do not include mediation, talking with others (including animals), or talking to self in the same way because in each of those situations, the self or other being exists and meditative relaxation is probably healthy. I have talked to my pets my entire life and in many cases I am sure there was some degree and form of understanding me and what my intention was, even if the language was not understood. They never talked back (at least not in a language like English).

My wife (not atheist) and I occasionally have meals with religious friends (Evangelical Protestant, Lutheran of some kind, Catholic of Roman blend, whatever). In most cases, it goes like this. We meet up, we talk, we sit, read menus, we talk more, order drinks, talk more, order food, they talk even more, and then the food comes. That’s usually when the religious people decide to pray.

Now, if we can pray at religious school before we go home or down stairs for lunch; couldn’t they get the prayer part done a lot sooner? Furthermore, praying, especially while holding hands with convinced atheist, is not a social experience. It is a religious one.

Sometimes, they do pray early. If you go to their home for an outdoor barbeque or buffet style meal, they pray in one of those large group things. Usually, the protestants, and often Catholics, still want to hold hands, bow heads, close eyes, and mumble incoherently. Anyway, I will usually hold hands and watch as someone mumbles a long thanksgiving kind of prayer, often as the food cools. Early prayer is possible.

Truth is, these are my wife’s friends much more than mine (she and they may disagree). If I do not feign cooperation, it could affect her relationship with her friends. I don’t want to do that.

In most of these situations I feel awkward (and maybe a bit hypocritical) because of my beliefs. If they did not pray, or would pray on their own, it would be fine. The problems come with the showing off. That’s when I feel like I am socially being made (as in forced) part of the prayer, prayer group, or blessing process. Maybe I should say something like,

“You go on ahead and pray. I don’t do that. I’ll wait, but if you take too long, I’ll start without you. I’m here to interact with you socially and to eat. Not to pray.”

But I won’t do that.

Is my conclusion equally valid?

While I’m willing to speak openly about my atheism with almost anyone (there are limits), I don’t want to cause problems. I’m often demonstrative when arguing or debating religion (or anything). That’s not good.

Moreover, I don’t want to be the cause of my wife’s friends shunning her or pretending out of sympathy. I don’t care what they think about me. (I’m atheist, I know what many think). But there is irony in that. I do care how the world treats my family, especially when I may be the reason for it. (Your father, grandfather, husband, friend, what-evah).

What do you think?

If you have an opinion or experience with this, I would like to hear it. If you pray, how do you feel about a non-believer excusing themselves or feigning participation? If you are not a believer, how do you handle such situations? Please comment, even if it is that you don’t care either way.

If you watch this show, you know that they seldom hold hands: Catholic.

Bill Reynolds, 5/11/2018

Look both ways when crossing to the other side.
Mind the gap of our differences.

22 thoughts on “Essay: Grace Before Rant (and why I care)

  1. I’m really uncomfortable with the public display at restaurants. And you’re forced to feel rude if you don’t participate with your religious friends at a meal. But really, they are the rude ones forcing their beliefs on you. It makes me mad, actually.

    And I don’t want to be touching hands right before I eat too…germs anyone?

    You could say I’m not comfortable holding hands I guess and just sit there maybe hand bowed down. And why can’t they just do it silently alone. Years back no one did this in public that I can recall and now it’s like a proclamation that I’m religious and therefore going to heaven and your not!

    But when you like people and they are friends or family…what do you do? I still feel they are imposing on you…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I say this… and it is scriptural. “I do not pray in public”. It can serve several purposes and it needs to be said very kindly with a hint of spiritual concern. First, you are right to not pray in public…As the heathens do, it gets you out of holding hands (yuk for me) with people your really not that close to, and it causes them to reflect on their position as well. It is uncomfortable to watch, hear, do, and nobody can stomach much piety in a restaurant, right before they eat.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t have any issues with folks praying, but I agree that public praying a restaurant is uncomfortable for me, especially when the praying is out loud. I can understand you not wanting your beliefs to cause your family to be shunned. Deep sigh. I wish folks could be more accepting of our differences rather than expecting everyone to conform. I’m glad I live in the PNW, although I expect I’ll face more challenges with my “ open mind, free thinking ways” when we make our final move to a more conservative side of the state. Great blog topic, Bill. Ya got me thinking before I’ve finished my first cuppa coffee ☕️ Have a good week😊

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I am not one for prayer. I am also not one to rock the boat. So I bow my head and wait. I can use a minute or seven to collect my thoughts a remind myself why I love these people or I am spending time with them(depends on the people right?). I suppose it’s about respect for me, I ask them to respect my beliefs and in turn I respect theirs.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I say to each his own. Which is hard when we are in a communal space and going your own way puts a kink in the works. Not that I think one or the other should pretend to be someone they are not but there is something called diplomacy. Diplomacy is what you display for the sake of your spouse. That my friend is admirable and kind. Much more demonstrative of Christian values than what some so-called Christians show. Holier than thou are out in abundance these days but I guess that is just me being a different kind of judgmental.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ‘Each his own’ would work for me too. I don’t think it’s hard, I just feel deceptive and hyocrical when I play along. I don’t feel it is admirable, but I’ve decided not to change what I have been doing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I just sit at the table looking around at other things whilst people pray,, and I’m sure I look bored and slightly disgusted. I find it pathetic, giving thanks to something that does nothing at all, and doing it in public as virtual signaling.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I think it’s nice to be nice when it comes to breaking bread and saying grace. I am not a Christian and am certain my version of Source does not match the biblical version of God my husband’s family worships. As I do pray, particularly in gratitude, I’m not sure I’m at the same level of discomfort you feel.
    I feel like an impostor in their church tho. Like my skin crawls and my ears bleed and my brain aches. Maybe that’s more what you experience at grace?
    My FIL always ‘blesses the hands that prepared it’ and I have two kinds of arthritis in my hands, so I really appreciate that part, and I think my god and I, we have a lil giggle on that one.

    When I was in school, there were always kids who left for the pledge, which was their religious right. I suppose standing outside the circle is sorta the same. It’s your right. Minority you may be, but it is still your right.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, joey. I find it interesting that virtually everyone has said the same thing (including wife, verbally): keep being nice. That’s what I’ll do and after the feedback, I think I’ll feel more comfy too.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks a bunch for putting this out there, Bill. It’s nice to get a variety of very thoughtful perspectives on the subject from you and your readers. For me, it always comes down to choosing one’s battles wisely. There is a time and place to challenge true believers, but, for me, sitting as a welcome guest at someone’s dinner table is not one of them. So, while the head of the house “says grace”, I simply sit quietly and look around at everyone else with their heads bowed and eyes closed and wonder what they are truly thinking about. I am even “okay” holding hands, if that is the custom, although it feels a bit “icky” to me… not just in the hygiene sense. While all this is happening, I remain torn… Am I being a disingenuous? A coward even? I am I granting my tacit approval to superstitious nonsense? Am I failing to take full advantage of a captive audience and a teachable moment? Most important, I am thinking about the several billion people who would give almost anything they had in order to have the scraps of food that will be tossed out after we stuff ourselves. Thanks and peace.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Frank for you perspective. If I sing, I bet they ask me to stop:

      Someone’s cryin’, Lord, kumbaya
      Someone’s cryin’, Lord, kumbaya
      Someone’s cryin’, Lord, kumbaya
      Oh, Lord, kumbaya (oh, Lord, kumbaya)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Can’t remember when I started just saying “no thank you” when people offered hands to pray. It works. I just sit there looking bored. And it is boring, but if it’s what they want to do. Then again, can’t remember the last time it happened since I don’t know any religious people to dine with. Family, on the other hand is different. When the grandsires were alive, I slumped in my chair and said nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

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